Art & Identity

Our identity is the foundation of who we are as individuals. Our confidence, motivation, passion and durability are but a few aspects of who we see ourselves to be, and ultimately how we behave and interact in the world.

Children have identities that begin to emerge not long after they join us on this earth. Their personalities begin to show who they are leaning towards becoming long before they can speak. Some are brash and fearless—others pensive and cautious. Many are a mixed bag simply trying on new versions of themselves to see what they like. We adults respond to their outward expressions and tend to nudge their behaviors in ways that we often don’t recognize in that moment. When we affirm them, they’re happy and smart enough to know “that one is a keeper”. If we react negatively they may persist for a bit, but usually move on. It’s a constant process of identity building that we witness as children grow from toddlers, to tweens, teens, and beyond.

Art, and more specifically drawing ability, is a building block of identity. Virtually everyone knows precisely how they would fill in the blank on the sentence, “I am _______ when it comes to drawing.” A majority of adults would say not good or even terrible, and they’ve felt that way since they were between 5 and 9 years of age! That’s the age when children either accept or reject the role of Artist as part of their personal identity.

While children are still receptive to seeing themselves as artists they view drawings and art they make as extensions of themselves. It’s personal for them, in a way that is often misunderstood by adults. When children are engaged and excited by their artwork they want to share it and know that it’s appreciated as a personal accomplishment. When a child’s drawing is criticized, even if only in jest, it’s strongly felt and probably never forgotten and it can lead to to end of the child’s interest and identification with the role of being “artistic”.